“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:2-3). When the brother of Jesus wrote these words, Jewish Christians had been scattered across the region because of intense persecution. Their faith in Jesus had placed them in direct conflict with their own countrymen (e.g. Acts 8:1) and thus displaced them from their territorial loyalty. And yet, James encouraged them to “count it all joy.” Really? Joy in trials and testing? Surely, there must be a textual variant in the manuscripts that would discount such an odd instruction? Nope! James clearly called upon his readers to have hope as he laid out a larger vision of God’s discipleship. According to him, followers of Jesus can have joy because God Himself utilizes those trials and tests to develop “patience,” perhaps better defined as “endurance,” in the believers’ lives. Indeed, the difficult moments enable us to grow into more complete, well-equipped disciples.
This past week, we marked the one-year anniversary of a great trial for our city and our church. As many of us recall, severe weather pummeled North Louisiana and produced a tornado that cut at the heart of Ruston. Every time I drive through the city itself, I recognize the scar that remains. Electrical lines were mangled, houses were decimated, and unfortunately, lives were lost. On the following Sunday, we were only able to have one worship service together, but oh what a time it was! In the midst of pain for so many, we celebrated what God was doing in our community to bring us together across denominational, racial, socio-economic, and even political lines. We specifically gave thanks that we could be utilized for His Kingdom. I saw the Temple family mobilized to meet the needs of those impacted by the storm. Whether it was a chainsaw team that took care of the tremendous debris at a widow’s house or serving meals to the community at The Springs or providing resources so that a family could have a roof over its head, you all stepped up with a heart for ministry! It was and is a reminder that one can have joy in the trial! And it helped us grow personally and corporately into His image!
My friends, this truth encourages me as we experience the current season of testing. As I look around, I see weary people. I see tough days for people physically. I see the financial strain weighing on businesses and families. I see frustration and anxiety littering the hearts of individuals. Yet, I know this is a time when ministry can flourish. We have an unprecedented opportunity to show the love of Jesus. We remind people that He is their Hope! Not their activities! Not their wealth! Not their earthly relationships! Jesus alone is their Hope! We also have the responsibility to take care of those most vulnerable through these days . . . whether that be our “seasoned” saints, those whose medical immunity is compromised, and even those who are struggling to feed their families. How grateful I am for our deacons who have been checking on people! How thankful I am that we have been able to provide groceries/meals to the needy! How appreciative I am that Sunday School classes are still meeting through virtual means! How blessed we are! For we find joy and ministry in midst of trial!
Some time ago, I came across a question: “Would your community really be any different if your church didn’t exist?” While the question is intriguing, it is also challenging. There are many great churches in Lincoln Parish and beyond, and I believe that they have contributed tremendously to the Kingdom effort! We need all believers working together! The community is better because of them. Of course, I only have the right to answer/evaluate that question for my own faith family. And I say with absolute confidence that Temple Baptist Church has greatly impacted this community through the years. Through its Gospel proclamation, its discipleship efforts, and its benevolence ministry, Temple has made a difference in Ruston and beyond. And I promise you, as long as the Lord tarries, we will continue to carry out our Lord’s work no matter what trial or test comes our way!
We continue to evaluate the information we receive from our government leaders as well as our current ministry context, and we are preparing for the initial phase of our regathering on campus. While I hope to receive a bit more clarity over the next few days, I will communicate with you our intentions over the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned! Stay connected! And I hope to see at least some of you soon!